(Medeola Virginiana) Lily-of-the-valley family
Flowers - Greenish yellow, on fine, curving footstalks, in a
loose cluster above a circle of leaves. Perianth of 6 wide-spread
divisions about 1/4 in. long; 6 reddish-brown stamens; 3 long
reddish-brown styles, stigmatic on inner side. Stem: 1
to 2 1/2
ft. high, unbranched, cottony when young. Leaves: Of flowering
plants, in 2 whorls; lower whorl of 5 to 9 large, thin, oblong,
taper-pointed leaves above the middle of stem; upper whorl of 3
to 5 small, oval, pointed leaves 1 to 2 in. long, immediately
under flowers. Flowerless plants with a whorl at summit. Fruit:
Round, dark-purple berries.
Preferred Habitat - Moist woods and thickets.
Flowering Season - May-June.
Distribution - Nova Scotia and Minnesota, southward nearly to the
Gulf of Mexico.
Again we see the leaves of a plant coming to the aid of otherwise
inconspicuous flowers to render them more attractive. By placing
themselves in a circle just below these little spidery blossoms
of weak and uncertain coloring, some of the Indian cucumber's
leaves certainly make them at least noticeable, if not showy. It
would be short-sighted philanthropy on the leaves' part to help
the flowers win insect wooers at the expense of the plant's
general health; therefore those in the upper whorl are fewer and
much smaller than the leaves in the lower circle, and a
sufficient length of stem separates them to allow the sunlight
and rain to conjure with the chlorophyll in the group below.
While there is a chance of nectar being pilfered from the flowers
by ants, the stem is cottony and ensnares their feet. In
September, when small clusters of dark-purple berries replace the
flowers, and rich tints dye the leaves, the plant is truly
beautiful - of course to invite migrating birds to disperse its
seeds. It is said the Indians used to eat the horizontal, white,
fleshy rootstock, which has a flavor like a cucumber's.
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